But I would have it remembered that…though American scenery is detitute of many of those circumstances that give value to the European, still it has features, and glorious ones, unkown to Europe. – Thomas Cole, 1836
The above quote comes from the exhibition, Painting the American Vision, at the the Peabody Essex Museum, a gem of a museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The exhibition looks at the Hudson River School’s landscapes from the 1800’s with paintings by Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Asher B. Durand among others. All the works in the exhibition come from the (soon to reopen) New York Historical Society’s collection.
The works serve to document and highlight the beauty of the American landscape – mostly untouched in the 1800’s. The exhibition of 45 realistic depictions opens with Thomas Cole’s impressive series from 1833-36, “The Course of Empire” and flows through to landscapes and seascapes through the late 1800’s. The most notable aspect of these paintings, aside from the incredible detail, is the illumination of the scene. The varying degrees of light that the artists captured, emanating from the sky and reflecting upon the landscape, is quite impressive. It is as if they were able to take a snapshot to capture a fleeting moment.
All in all, I loved engaging with the history and beauty of these paintings.